“Screens are addictive and my children will get lost in them.” Have you ever had that this thought come into your head? I certainly did, many years ago, and I know a LOT of other parents that have experienced this.
As I sit here and write this article, I’m basking in gratitude and love for all of us who have believed that screens are addictive and all of us who have been willing to investigate and question this belief. I’ve just had the honour of talking with someone who was open and willing to be guided through a process of self-inquiry to investigate and unpack what was really going on in her head around the belief that screens are addictive. I used the questions of “The Work” by Byron Katie, a form of self-inquiry that I have been using for over ten years and taught to many other parents.
Wow! I’m in awe of what my client discovered.
I asked my client to consider her belief that screens were addictive and that she would lose her children in them, and to answer a simple question from the deepest place within herself:
Can you absolutely know that’s true?
She closed her eyes and searched within herself. Her answer was No. She couldn’t absolutely know that screens were addictive and that she would lose her children in them.
We paused for a moment just to take that in. It’s so interesting to discover that what seemed certain a moment ago, now doesn’t seem to be true any more.
Then I asked her:
How do you react when you believe the thought “Screens are addictive and my children will be lost in it”?
She noticed that she got lost in rage, frustration, anxiety and attempts to control her children’s use of screens. She threatened them with turning off all the internet. And when she carried out her threat and turned off the internet – against the protests of her children- she felt guilt and shame. She experienced painful self-judgements about the conflict she had caused as well as thoughts about not being a “good parent”.
Then I asked her another question. I asked her to recall a time when she was in the room with one of her children while they were playing on their laptop. Then I asked her:
How would you be in that situation, with your child, if you did NOT believe the thought “Screens are addictive and my children will get lost in them”?
Her answer was clear and AMAZING. She said that if she wasn’t believing that thought she would feel relaxed and calm. – What a difference!
I invited her to pause and really sink into the experience of feeling that calm, relaxed Presence. She did – and she said it felt wonderful.
This experience of calm isn’t unique to this person. Or to me. This is something everyone can experience – or at least get a glimpse of. This is who you are when you are not believing the story in your head. You are calm, relaxed and present, no matter what your child is doing.
It’s such a delight to share this moment with someone; when they come back to this calm, peaceful Presence and can rest there for bit. This is GOLD. This remembering is beautiful and precious. Words cannot express how much love I feel in these shared moments.
We investigated a bit deeper into her memory of being in a room with her child and a laptop. It became clear that the reality she saw was a child that was happy and engaged in something they enjoyed. This was not a child that was trying to escape from painful feelings. This was not a child that was suffering with an addiction. This was a child that was having fun and was quite willing to chat and share that with their mother.
Without the belief “Screens are addictive and my child will get lost in them” my client was not lost in her own painful feelings or her attempts to control her child. She could see her child through the lens of Presence and connect with what her child was doing and how she was feeling.
For the final part of the inquiry I asked my client to think of a statement that would be the OPPOSITE of the one she started with. This is what she came up with:
Screens are not addictive and my children are not lost in them.
I asked her to see if she could find some evidence, in her own experience with her children, that this statement was at least as true as the one she started with.
My client shared with me how much she enjoyed playing online games with her children at times and how willing her children were to engage with her in other activities if she invited them rather than lectured and threatened them. They were also willing to turn off their screens at night when asked. She told me how happy her children were and how well they handled their schooling and homework. She shared how much she enjoyed the connection she had with her children when she was not lost in her stressful thoughts.
Through this process of self-inquiry the old patterns of thinking and reacting can start to unravel. There is the possibility here of unlearning a belief; of realising that it isn’t true for you any more. Not because you “should” or because it’s “wrong” or because of something you read or were told.
This doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to find screens addictive. It doesn’t mean that a child has never struggled in their relationship with their emotions and with technology use. I delve deeper into the psychology of addiction, screens and gaming in another article here. I share more about how I handled my own sons passion for gaming here.
The process of self-inquiry doesn’t magically get your children to put down their devices and spend more time outdoors. It’s not about fixing a perceived problem. It’s more about investigating if there is really a problem to begin with. This is simply a process that brings the workings of the mind and emotions into greater awareness and invites you to remember your own truth. It’s my great joy and passion to share this. I’m giggling here as I write this because I can find words that don’t sound corny and over used. So I’ll leave it at that and sit with my cup of tea and my silly grin – in front of a screen that I love to watch every day.